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      Kevin Schaefer

      Carson Berry is a junior at Coastal Carolina University studying marine biology, and will be interning this summer with a TV station meteorologist in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Berry also has SMA type 2, and though his disability poses some unique challenges for him in this field, he refuses to let it get in the way of pursuing his goals. SMA News Today caught up with him to discuss his college life, the obstacles he faces and advice he has for other students with SMA. 

      Kevin Schaefer: When you first started looking at colleges, what were some of the biggest things you took into consideration? Have you found the disability services at Coastal Carolina to be pretty accommodating?

      Carson Berry: Some of the biggest things that I took into consideration when searching for colleges were how good the accessibility/disability services were, personal care attendants, weather, and of course how good the program for my field of study was. Some universities offer PCAs through their medical/nursing programs, and others do not. I wanted to be somewhere relatively warm that wasn’t consistently rainy, because apparently electric wheelchairs can’t get wet. I wanted to steer more toward larger universities because their disability services tend to have more experience with people with physical conditions like SMA, and it would be less stressful on my part.

      Coastal is a smaller college with a big university feel. My freshman year, the disability services definitely lacked in some areas. I lived on campus and they placed me in a second floor room. Elevators broke down and there would be no word on when they would be fixed. The shuttles didn’t have tie-downs and I slid around in the back, and the list goes on. Fortunately, they have made a lot of improvements and my name is well-known by the campus administration, so things get done. The accommodations I am currently given are extended time on assignments and exams if needed, copies of notes if needed, and special desks for classrooms.

      KS: You’re a marine science major. Have there been times when you’ve been unable to meet the physical demands of a lab or project? If so, what did you do to figure out an alternative plan with your professors?

      CB: I get many different looks and comments when I tell people my major. The question I’m always asked is, “Well, you can’t get on a boat, can you?”  First off, I have been on a boat in a wheelchair, so I have my sea wheels. (And I didn’t get seasick! Woo!) Unfortunately, the Coast Guard has told the university that due to weight constraints (the combined weight of my chair and my body), I cannot board our small research ship because it would become a safety and channel navigation issue. I knew this would be a factor, but I also know that I can do so many things in this field while being on land.

      My professors have been very understanding and we come up with many different ways to work around barriers. For field trips, my professors usually take a video explaining the equipment and how we measure things. In labs, I work with a student normally (we usually have groups) and just do what works for us given the lab material. I try my best to get everything turned in on time because I do not want the SMA to define my career ability, but sometimes I have to use an extension. I don’t want to be treated special because of my condition, I just want to do my job.

      KS: What does your daily life look like? From the time you get up to going to classes, social activities, etc., how do you go about your routine?

      CB: I moved back home my sophomore year because CCU is only 10 miles from my house, and I was having medical issues. I wake up Monday to Friday around 6:15am and my mother dresses me and my dad helps us get me into my chair. Then I brush my teeth and all that good stuff. Then my parents get my brother up, who also has SMA. We leave at 7:15am to drop him off at school, then my mom (she’s also my PCA) and I head out to campus. We go through classes, then head back into Myrtle Beach to pick up my brother at 3:30pm. We get home and we start homework and have dinner. After that we take showers and I go back to homework, and then bed. I really don’t have time for extracurriculars, so I have kind of a boring life in that sense (ha). 

      KS: What advice do you have for other SMA individuals who are either thinking about college or who recently started?

      CB: First off, find your passion and follow it. That passion is stronger than the SMA — if you really want to go to school, don’t let your limitations decide your future. Second, self-advocate. You know what you need and what works. If something isn’t right, tell someone so it can be addressed. Lastly, find some good friends to help you out. I know it’s hard sometimes to make friends because we are different, but I believe it is better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies. Find some friends that will come across campus in a downpour to help keep you and your chair dry or feed you if you cannot feed yourself (or give you a shot of the good stuff at a party — sorry, mom). It’s college, have fun and expand your boundaries and find yourself!

      Do you have any questions about going to college with SMA? Leave them below! 

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